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Funny Girl was almost a very different musical.
Several attempts had been made to adapt Fanny Brice’s life, including one by Stephen Sondheim (known for Gypsy), before it finally made it to the Broadway stage.
“The first script of Funny Girl was written when I was only eleven years old, and thank God it took so long to get it right!” joked Barbra Streisand.
Originally, Anne Bancroft was cast to be the lead, with the intention of her “sing-speaking” songs in the way that Rex Harrison did for My Fair Lady.
However, as the score became more robust, Barbra Streisand was seen as the perfect fit, especially given her show-stopping Broadway debut in another musical, I Can Get It For You Wholesale.
Funny Girl opened on the stage in 1964 to rave reviews for Barbra Streisand, who was nominated for a Tony Award.
But despite her success, when Columbia Studios looked at adapting the property for the screen, they thought they needed a bigger star – Shirley MacLaine.
However, producer Ray Stark disagreed and advocated for Streisand, knowing that she had the chops to bring this larger than life character to the finish line.
But who would play the leading man?
David Janssen, star of The Fugitive, was reportedly up for the role first, but it fell through. Other actors, such as Tony Curtis, Sean Connery, and James Garner, were considered, and Marlon Brando, Gregory Peck, and Frank Sinatra declined the part when they learned they wouldn’t get top-billing.
Finally, director William Wyler found his leading man in Omar Sharif. According to the star, before he had been cast, the joke had been “Why not Omar Sharif?” when discussing casting.
That is until, Wyler said, “Why not Omar Sharif?” A screen test proved that the actor had chemistry with the leading lady, and he was quickly hired.
"Omar was my first leading man in the movies. He was handsome, sophisticated and charming,” Streisand remembered.
The production cost approximately $14 million and grossed more than 56 million dollars. But more importantly, it established its leading lady as a Hollywood star when Barbra Streisand tied for an Academy Award for Best Actress with Katharine Hepburn.
Taking the golden statue on stage in 1969, her first words were “Hello, gorgeous.”